Interview with Representative Jane Harman

Interview with Representative Jane Harman

By John King, USA - February 8, 2011

KING: Congresswoman Harman, let me start with the challenge the administration faces on Egypt. Vice President Biden called his counterpart, Vice President Suleiman again today in a statement issued after the White House used the word "immediately" and "prompt" in just about every sentence. They are clearly frustrated that the Mubarak regime is not moving as quickly as they would like on Democratic reforms, on reaching out to the protestors. What can they do and what should they do?

REP. JANE HARMAN, (D) CALIFORNIA: Well, it's -- we can't control events. We do have leverage. Obviously we have a lot of both military and other aid going to Egypt and that could be a fight in Congress in future months. But I think we're doing the right thing, which is to have private conversations between Vice President Biden and Vice President Suleiman about a transparent and open process.

The Egyptian street is not speaking in one voice. I gather the crowds are building, but there are some folks who just want to tear the place down. There are a lot of other folks, so I understand it, who support the important role the military has played, and want some stability going forward. So I would hope that the goal here is very quickly to build some political capacity, that means room for support of different parties and different voices inside the government. And the ability for Egypt, for the first time, certainly in memory, to have an open and free election where there is real competition, and where whoever is president might not be somebody we can identify right away. And those, then that means Egypt will choose its new president, not the United States, and not its old president, President Mubarak.

KING: You mentioned there are some disagreement on the street about how fast change should come, whether President Mubarak should go now, or be able to stay for weeks, maybe through the end of his term. How confident are you that the United States has a good sense of that, from our intelligence agencies, and from others. There has been a lot of criticism that perhaps we were caught off guard by this was happening. What is your sense?

HARMAN: Senator Dianne Feinstein said earlier today it was an intelligence wake-up call. You bet. I think we have underestimated the importance of social media. And I think we have not used enough public sources in our intelligence products. This is an old problem, not a new problem. And our intelligence products are hugely better since the passage of the Intelligence Reform Act in 2004. Nonetheless, we missed this. And rather than label it a failure, I like Dianne's idea much better, this notion of a wake-up call. I would urge our intelligence community to scrub our intelligence products, not just about the Middle East, but about governments all over the world in terms of what are open sources-social media are open, meaning anyone can have access to them.

What's going on in social media in these countries? Or what's going on in social media elsewhere that could influence activities in these countries? Including in our own country, by the way, everyone should know that there is a social media being prepared in Yemen in colloquial English that Americans can read here, and that is influencing some Americans, unfortunately, to contemplate extreme behavior.

So this is something that's urgent to do. And we did miss how fast events would turn in Egypt. I want to commend President Obama and his team for carefully monitoring this issue and for, I think, playing a very constructive role at this point, at least the maximum role we're able to play at this point.

KING: You say a constructive role at this point. I want you to listen here to the former House Speaker Republican Newt Gingrich. He has a very different view. Let's listen.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) FMR. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The fact that they appointed a very able diplomat, Frank Wisner, and within two days were publicly contradicting him. That is, you know, is so amateurish. We want to help the Egyptian people achieve self-government, but we want to isolate and minimize the risk of the Muslim Brotherhood. This administration doesn't have a clue about those realities.


KING: Amateurish, doesn't have a clue. You agree with that?

HARMAN: No. I was in Munich, at the Munich security conference this weekend with a very large group of members of Congress, a congressional delegation led by Senators McCain and Lieberman. And I heard Frank Wisner and his comments were careful and measured. I didn't hear him say that the Muslim Brotherhood should be excluded. I was aware and am aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is being included. I do think the way he framed some of his answers about Mubarak gave some people the impression that, he at least, wanted Mubarak to remain longer. I don't think that was his intention. And it is not our policy. And that was made clear very quickly after the one-hour event in Munich.

KING: Let me ask you about your transition now. You'll be leaving the Congress in a couple of weeks to take over the Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington. That's a great appointment for you. But there are some who question how could you have done this? You just ran in an election and won. You just, weeks ago, took an oath of office to serve another two-year term. And now the state of California is going have to spend somewhere in the ballpark of $2 million, just shy of that, on a special election. Some people say, well, when you ran didn't you commit to the people of California that you would stay two years. You could have said no. You could have said, what a great opportunity, I'd love to do it but I just took the oath.

HARMAN: Sure I could have said no. Bu let me tell you what happened. In late December the Wilson Center search committee talked to me about this opportunity. And it is a fabulous opportunity. I hesitated quite a bit because of my commitment to my constituents, to my excellent staff, and to my colleagues here. But I ultimately decided that after 17 years in Congress, and these years are like dog years, the new challenge was something I couldn't refuse.

Now, let me talk about the special election. The governor of California, Jerry Brown, has some real latitude under state law to set this election. He is planning, so I understand, and I've heard this from many people. And he has called me back but we haven't spoken yet, to hold a special election this summer, on extending some tax provisions for the state, which is in dire straits. And this election could be part of that ballot. That would save a lot of money.

Congresswoman Jane Harman, thanks for your time today, and best of luck in your new venture.

HARMAN: Thank you, John. Take care.


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John King, USA

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